Science and Technology News

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Countdown To Endeavour: A New Home for Retired Space Shuttles

By Carla Voorhees

Kathy Winters is an Air Force Civilian Meteorologist in the 45th Weather Squadron at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. She is the Space Shuttle Launch Weather Officer providing weather support to the Space Shuttle Program at Kennedy Space Center as the Launch Team prepares for the 29 April 2011 launch of Endeavour. You can find out more about the 45th Space Wing at their Facebook page.

On Tuesday, April 12, NASA announced the facilities at which the four Shuttle orbiters would be on permanent display after the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program. This was an outdoor ceremony including over 500 people, and the orbiter processing facility for Atlantis was going to be opened, making Atlantis vulnerable to weather. The activities by the orbiter processing facility were expected to last a couple of hours followed on by a 4-hour picnic at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center.

Outdoor Announcement Ceremony from the KSC Multimedia Web site: http://mediaarchive.ksc.nasa.gov/index.cfm

The weather was unstable. A cold front was moving into Florida, causing a chance for isolated showers and thunderstorms, but it wasn’t a black and white weather scenario. This was the toughest type of weather forecast — the “iffy” ones. We met with the Atlantis Vehicle Flow Manager, Mrs. Angie Brewer, the day prior as well as the morning of the event for several weather briefings. After reviewing the model guidance with forecast upper air and stability data as well as releasing an additional weather balloon before the ceremony, the 45th Weather Squadron team determined the atmosphere was dry and would take some time to modify during the day. We also expected the southwest low-level wind flow to hold off the east coast sea breeze, a big weather maker for us when the conditions are ripe.

I provided our team’s forecast to the flow manager: Good weather for the announcement portion of the ceremony, but a 40% chance of rain and lightning for the picnic event at the end of the day. The team pressed on with the outdoor ceremonies with contingency plans for the outdoor picnic ready if needed. Overall, the weather held off until about an hour after the picnic when a thunderstorm moved through Kennedy Space Center. The ceremony and the picnic were a huge success. What a relief!

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