Friday, January 23, 2009

Today's birthday story.

Today is Bob Cabana's 60th birthday.
Here's your Story of the Day:

On June 25, 1997, Vasily Tsibliev, Aleksandr Lazutkin, and Michael Foale were aboard Mir. Tsibliev was attempting to dock the Progress resupply ship to the space station. Something went wrong, and the 7-ton, bus-sized Progress slammed into the side of Mir. A loud hissing sound made it clear that the crew was in mortal danger. By an incredible stroke of luck, the three men found the damage in the Spektr module almost immediately. They cut the wires to the resupply ship and sealed the holes. The crew had to go to minimal power during the crisis; therefore the gyrodynes were inoperative. Mir started to spin. To right the ship and re-orient the solar arrays toward the Sun, the crew needed to know the spin rate of Mir. But of course, the computers were powered down. Michael Foale held his thumb up to the stars outside the window and used celestial nagivation and physics to estimate the rate of spin. The damaged Mir, Foale said, was spinning at 1°/sec, which meant it made a 360° turn in just six minutes. This information was radioed to Moscow Ground Control, who fired the rockets of Mir and stopped the spin.

You can imagine that this latest mishap, coming on the heels of the famous Mir fire, caused a bit of concern among some in the space community.

Astronaut Blaine Hammond said, “We have been extremely lucky so far. We may not be so lucky next time and, in my personal opinion, there will be a next time, it’s just a matter of when and how bad."

Hammond went on to call Mir "a disaster waiting to happen."

A year after Hammond left NASA, he told a reporter, "You’d have thought I was preaching heresy, the way people reacted to that. They would let me talk, but they didn’t act like they ever were going to take it forward. You’d see eyes rolling or you’d get the impression, 'Geez, here he goes again.'"

Evidence to back up Hammond's claims came from an e-mail he had, an e-mail sent by none other than our birthday boy.

On July 1, 1997, chief astronaut Bob Cabana rebuked Hammond by e-mail for his negative statements about Mir. Cabana, in his words, wanted to remind Hammond of the duties of his position, which did not include the critique of Mir. Or the critique of anything, for that matter.

Cabana chided, "I was told that you stood up at a meeting and said, 'It would be criminal for us to send Wendy [Lawrence] to Mir.'" He then criticized Hammond for making such a statement without clearance. "Our primary goal right now is to help the Russians fix Mir and ensure that it’s done correctly. Your job is to make sure the system is supporting [our decisions], doing all the right things to fly safely, not to express [emotional] personal opinions that may or may not coincide with policy."

The e-mail ended with the ominous, dreaded "I would like to talk with you."

Above: Eileen Collins expresses the personal opinion that she'd like to come home to little Bridget in one piece after her mission.

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