National Geographic

STS-130 Launch Coverage: Tanking Begins

By Susan Poulton

for Breaking Orbit

The press center is very quiet right now as most members of the media (and Kennedy Space Center staff) have gone home to get some rest before tonight’s excitement. Only those of us who were not able to get a hotel room thanks to the Super Bowl being played a couple of hours south of here are slugging it out in the press room.

shuttle_press.jpg—Image Credit: Susan Poulton

Fueling of the external fuel tank, called “tanking,” has begun and is proceeding normally. Even with 0% weather conditions affecting the tanking (they usually can’t load highly flammable liquid oxygen and hydrogen during lightning storms, etc), several milestones must be reached that have been problem spots in the past. Sensors in the early part of tanking and near the topping off phase must read normal in order for the launch to proceed. So far so good!

I just took a walk down to the countdown clock to marvel at the brightly lit launch pad under a starry sky, and it’s extremely windy and cold outside right now. The winds are expected to die down and the weather forecast to improve, however there are several weather fronts moving into the area that they are keeping an eye on.

shuttle_night.jpg—Image Credit: Susan Poulton

After tanking is complete, the press will assemble around 11:30pm ET to head over for the crew walk out when they board the “astrovan” to proceed over to the shuttle. This is a moment strong with tradition – the astronauts have suited up and departed through the same doors since the Apollo missions. Even the astrovan, while undergoing an extensive internal renovation, has kept its retro style from the ’60s.

Given the limited number of opportunities to see U.S. astronauts departing Kennedy Space Center in the near future, I expect this will be an emotional send off for all.

—Susan Poulton works for National Geographic Digital Media and is a self-proclaimed space geek. Since graduating from Space Camp in 1987, she’s been fascinated by all things space and can’t resist sharing this passion with others. A veteran of 12 launches (and over 30 launch attempts), she has attempted to see every space shuttle launch since STS-114 in 2005.