Shuttle to fly over JPL
It flew some of the most iconic payloads in the space shuttle program history, including “The Camera That Saved Hubble” and “The Mission That Mapped the World,” both proudly developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Now the spaceship dubbed “America’s Best Ever, Space Shuttle Endeavour” by the Rockwell International technicians, who lovingly assembled and tested her in California’s high desert more than two decades ago, is coming home to roost in Southern California for a final time this week. The shuttle is set to begin a new life in retirement on permanent display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. But before Endeavour makes her final “wheel stop” at Los Angeles International Airport this Friday, Sept. 21, she’ll be paying an aerial house call on some of her old friends, including JPL.
Weather and operational constraints permitting, Southern Californians will be watching the skies beginning at 11:30 a.m PDT on Friday, as Endeavour makes low-altitude flyovers in the Los Angeles area. In addition to JPL, Endeavour is scheduled to pass over such regional landmarks as its future home at the California Science Center, Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey, Disneyland, The Getty Center, Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles City Hall, the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, Malibu Beach, the Queen Mary, Universal Studios and Venice Beach, among others.
Endeavour holds a special place in the hearts of many at JPL. After all, this is the shuttle orbiter that JPLers have had the most interaction with over the years. The lab played key roles in several of Endeavour’s 25 space missions. Among them, JPL built the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC-2) for the first Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission in 1993, the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) payload that flew twice in 1994, the Inflatable Antenna Experiment (IAE) and Brilliant Eyes Ten-kelvin Sorption Cryocooler Experiment (BETSCE) in 1996, the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) in 2000 and the Electronic Nose (ENose) instrument in 2008, among other payloads.
Nicknamed “The Camera That Saved Hubble,” WFPC-2 was designed to correct the spherical aberration of the Hubble Space Telescope’s main mirror, discovered after its launch in 1990. It became the telescope’s workhorse camera for nearly 16 years, obtaining 135,000 observations of the universe.
“WFPC-2 was the instrument that corrected Hubble’s vision and restored wide field imaging to the Hubble,” said John Trauger, WFPC-2 principal investigator at JPL. “It was a huge relief. We knew this was the beginning and not an end; that Hubble’s science program could now kick into high gear.”
While WFPC-2 gave us new eyes to the universe, another JPL-developed payload allowed us to see our own world in 3-D for the first time. The Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) flew aboard Endeavour in 2000. Its 11-day mission made the first near-global, high-resolution topographical map of Earth, collecting data on nearly 80 percent of Earth’s land surfaces. SRTM revealed for the first time large, detailed swaths of Earth’s topography previously obscured by persistent cloudiness. The data benefit scientists, engineers, government agencies and the public alike, with applications that range from land-use planning to virtual Earth exploration.
“SRTM was among the most significant science missions the shuttle ever performed,” said Michael Kobrick, SRTM mission project scientist at JPL. “It’s probably the most significant mapping mission of any single type ever.”
SRTM used an improved version of a radar instrument that comprised the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR), which flew twice on Endeavour in 1994 as the Space Radar Laboratory-1 and -2 missions. The JPL-built SIR-C was coupled with the German-built X-SAR to image Earth in three different wavelengths. These synthetic aperture radar were used to study how Earth’s global environment is changing, and collected data on terrestrial soil moisture content, ocean dynamics, volcanism and tectonic activity, as well as soil erosion and desertification.
“Both SIR-C/X-SAR flights succeeded in acquiring 100 percent of the planned science data,” said Diane Evans, SIR-C project scientist at JPL and now director of JPL’s Earth Science & Technology Directorate. “In addition, mission planners were able to redirect the radars during each flight to take advantage of rapidly changing conditions on the ground.” These included flooding, tropical cyclones and a volcanic eruption — in fact, SIR-C/X-SAR data provided the most detailed documentation of a volcanic eruption ever obtained from orbit up to that time.
Another JPL-developed Endeavour payload was the Inflatable Antenna Experiment (IAE), which flew in 1996. Built by LaGarde, Tustin, Calif., and managed by JPL, it was mounted on the Spartan-207 satellite and was the first demonstration of inflatable reflector antenna technology in space. It deployed a 46-foot- (14-meter) diameter, 98-foot- (30-meter) long mylar inflatable antenna from a small container the size of a coffee table.
“Bigger than a tennis court, IAE was the largest structure ever erected in space at that time, surpassed only by SRTM in 2000,” said Steven Bard, the IAE project manager at JPL and now manager of JPL’s Earth Science Flight Projects Office. “It was so large that it was actually visible from the ground by the naked eye as it orbited Earth. I remember how we all ran outside from Mission Control in Houston and looked up in the sky to see the magnificent sight of the Endeavour, trailed by the IAE, as they both flew overhead.”
Also launched in 1996 on Endeavour was the JPL-developed Brilliant Eyes Ten-kelvin Sorption Cryocooler Experiment (BETSCE). BETSCE produced small, solid-hydrogen ice cubes at 10 Kelvin (minus 442 degrees Fahrenheit). The BETSCE cooler pioneered the use of this novel, vibration-free, refrigeration technology in the microgravity space environment, and enabled its use on future astrophysics and Earth observation missions. A key accomplishment of the successful BETSCE demonstration is that it led to JPL’s development of two sorption coolers that are currently cooling the highly-sensitive infrared sensors on the European Space Agency’s flagship astrophysics mission, Planck, which is seeking answers to many fundamental questions about the early history and evolution of our universe.
“The BETSCE was a prime example of the benefits of the shuttle program as a unique test bed for demonstrating new technologies in space before you risk flying them on expensive missions,” said Bard, who was the principal investigator and project manager for BETSCE.
The JPL-developed Electronic Nose (ENose), which flew aboard Endeavour in 2008, was an air quality and event monitor designed to assess the breathing air in a crewed space habitat for dangerous chemicals that could harm astronaut health. It was installed on the International Space Station. The ENose can provide early identification and quantification of changes in the atmosphere caused by leaks or spills of analytes (chemical substances that are the subject of chemical analyses), including mercury, ammonia, sulfur dioxide, ethanol and benzene.
“The JPL ENose operated continually as a technology demonstration on the International Space Station for seven months,” said JPL senior engineer Margie Homer, the ENose co-investigator. “While on board, the ENose detected several events of interest, including perfluoropropane and ethanol. After a successful demonstration, the ENose returned to Earth on space shuttle Discovery.”
In addition to the JPL-developed payloads Endeavour took to space, two astronauts who had formerly worked at JPL flew aboard Endeavour: Jay Apt and Andrew Thomas. Many other JPL employees had worked on Endeavour in some capacity over the years before coming to JPL.
The Los Angeles-area flyovers mark the final leg of Endeavour’s cross-country ferry flight from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Los Angeles International Airport. Endeavour departed Kennedy on Wed., Sept. 19, mounted atop NASA’s modified Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Following low-level flyovers of several locations, Endeavour arrived at Ellington Field in Houston, near NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where it spent the night. After departing Houston on Thursday, Sept. 20, Endeavour made a refueling stop at Biggs Army Airfield in El Paso, Texas, then traveled to NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Thursday afternoon for an overnight stay.
The final leg of the ferry flight from NASA Dryden on Friday morning, Sept. 21 will include low-level flyovers of the Lancaster-Palmdale area and several Northern California locations before concluding with the Los Angeles-area flyovers, including JPL, and a landing at Los Angeles International Airport around 12:45 p.m. PDT.
After arrival at LAX, Endeavour will be removed from the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and spend a few weeks at a United Airlines hangar undergoing preparations for transport and display. Endeavour then will travel through Inglewood and Los Angeles city streets on a 12-mile journey from the airport to its new permanent home, the California Science Center in Los Angeles, where it is scheduled to arrive the evening of Oct. 13.
Beginning Oct. 30, the shuttle will be on display in the science center’s Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion, embarking on its new mission to commemorate past achievements in space and educate and inspire future generations of explorers.
Endeavour was the final space shuttle built, and was constructed from orbiter vehicle structural spare parts as a replacement for space shuttle Challenger. It completed 25 missions between 1992 and 2011, spending 299 days in orbit and orbiting Earth 4,671 times while traveling 122,883,151 miles. It was named after the British sailing ship HMS Endeavour, which Captain James Cook sailed on his first voyage of discovery.
Social media users are encouraged to share their Endeavour sightings using the hashtags #spottheshuttle and #OV105, Endeavour’s orbiter vehicle designation.
In addition to Endeavour, a number of other prominent JPL missions flew on other space shuttle orbiters. These included the Shuttle Imaging Radar-A aboard space shuttle Columbia in 1981 and Shuttle Imaging Radar-B aboard space shuttle Challenger in 1984; Galileo orbital mission to Jupiter, launched from space shuttle Atlantis in 1989; Magellan orbital mission to Venus, launched from space shuttle Atlantis in 1989; Ulysses mission to study the sun, launched from space shuttle Discovery in 1990; the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 1, launched aboard space shuttle Discovery in 1990; ACRIM2 instrument on the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, launched aboard space shuttle Discovery in 1991; Drop Dynamics Module, launched by space shuttle Challenger in 1985; Lambda Point Experiment, launched aboard space shuttle Columbia in 1992; and numerous additional shuttle payloads that flew aboard various space shuttles between 1981 and 1998. Other shuttle astronauts who previously worked for JPL include Stanley Love, John Olivas, Engene Trinh, Taylor Wang and Stephanie Wilson.