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March 27, 2008

Shuttle landing impressions...

Posted: 10:40 AM ET

Sixteen days ago the Space Shuttle Endeavour blasted off from Kennedy Space Center into the night sky. Its return Wednesday also came under the cover of darkness.

Source: NASA

The shuttle's first opportunity to land at KSC was slated for just before sunset, but the weather didn't cooperate. NASA mission managers called off the attempt because of concerns over clouds in the area.

The next chance to land was after dark and still at risk of being too cloudy. Shuttle Astronauts train for night landings, but they can be more difficult. Before Wednesday only 21 had been done in the shuttle program's history.

We waited in the press center for the latest from NASA's weather experts. Meanwhile over our heads an astronaut flew the shuttle flight path in a special aircraft designed to simulate the shuttle's reactions in the weather conditions. In Houston NASA mission control poured over the latest weather readings. If they "waved off" the shuttle on this landing attempt the orbits wouldn't line up for another chance to land at KSC until the next day.

After what clearly were serious discussions, and a conversation with Endeavour Commander Dom Gorie, NASA managers made the final call. They asked the shuttle flight crew to fire the engines slowing the orbiter to begin its decent.

As the shuttle worked its way down over the Yucatan peninsula, we stood at the CNN live location and watched its path on a monitor. The first sign of the shuttle entering the area were two loud bangs in quick succession. The noises sounded a bit like fireworks but were actually the nose and tail of the shuttle crossing the sound barrier. We kept our eyes glued on the night sky but from our vantage point the only sight of the shuttle visible was on our TV monitors.

As we watched the live feeds a bright orange flame pulsed from the top of Endeavor near its tail. The bright flame looked alarming – but was actually nothing to be concerned about. The fire is part of the exhaust from the shuttle's auxiliary power unit. It actually shows up on every flight, but is much more apparent when it's dark out.

Thursday the Shuttle astronauts will head back to the landing strip to catch a plane home to Houston. That flight is scheduled for the afternoon – not in the black of night.


-CNN Producer Aaron Cooper at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida


Filed under: NASA • Space

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Michael Smitreski   March 27th, 2008 5:25 pm ET

It would have been nice to watch it on CNN; fortunately NASA TV's website didn't fail me.

Mr. Spock   March 28th, 2008 3:26 am ET

I applaud the shuttle crew for the excellence in their training, a night launch, a long mission, and what I would call a very difficult night landing. I have landed jetliners at night and I know how difficult it can be to land safely in the dark. The Shuttle is the ultimate challenge in landing an aircraft. Far more challenging than a 747-400 or helicopter.

Paul   March 28th, 2008 9:34 am ET

It's good to see the shuttle crews getting back safely. I look forward to seeing this trend continue for future missions!

Irving   March 30th, 2008 8:39 pm ET

There are many shuttle missions planned for this year and each one brings us closer to the time of their ultimate demise. In 2010 the shuttle fleet will be retired replace by the Orion in 2014 or 2015. How have we progressed since the first shuttle launch into space in 1981. 1) The space shuttle gave us the capability to land on a runway. The book is still out on the method of landing for Orion with a water landing still seriously debated. 2) The space shuttle has a capacity to carry over 50,000 lbs of cargo (28.5 degree orbital inclination) and seven crew members. The Orion can carry a maximum of six crew members. 3) The space shuttle orbiter is reusable. There are no current plans for the Orion to be fully used over and over again. 4) The space shuttle can bring back a substantial amount of cargo. Orion will have minimal cargo back capabilities. Just to be fair the Orion does give us interplanetary mission capability which the space shuttle doesn't have.
However these are vehicles that should be complimenting each other rather then competing for the same space dollars.
During the almost 5 year hiatus between the last shuttle flight and the first Orion flight, how will we maintain our expertise? How will we maintain the astronaut corp., with veterans leaving because of no potential flights. We shouldn't have this problem of choosing between Orion and the space shuttle. Will we have to depend on the Chinese and Russians to fly our astronauts into space.

Capten Kirk   April 7th, 2008 6:04 am ET

NASA does good once more

Marty Briggs   June 1st, 2011 1:44 pm ET

If the flames were normal at the one engine of Endeavor, why were there no flames on the other engine? You could hear a noise coming from that engine. I did not hear that on earlier flight landings. What was burning? Unburned fuel? During the entering of the atmosphere, I heard them talk of a fuel dump. I had not heard that before. Is this connected? I was 31 years a mechanic and just interested in answers.

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