You wouldnt believe me 179

September 1988 had been primarily due to its long lakebed runways and stable weather, which offered a more forgiving landing environment. Missions which experienced technical or mechanical difficulties while in orbit, as the crew of Atlantis did on STS-44 in November 1991, would continue to be directed to Edwards, however, to provide their pilots with greater safety margins for error.

The downside of landing at KSC, on the other hand, was the often-unpredictable Floridian weather and the fact that its narrow all-concrete runway had contributed to brake failures and substantial tyre damage on previous missions. Nevertheless, beginning with Atlantis' STS-43 landing in August 1991, KSC played host to no fewer than 6 out of 10 Shuttle touchdowns, including that of Wetherbee's crew. There were still problems, however, with the new drag chute, which was meant to assist braking on the runway. During Endeavour's STS-47 touchdown in September 1992, it had 'dragged' the spacecraft to one side during rollout.

In an effort to acquire extra data on the chute's performance, Baker deployed it a couple of seconds before Columbia's nose gear hit the runway. The crew detected a perceptible tug into the wind as the canopy billowed out, pulling the Shuttle 4.6 m to the 'left' of the 90-m-wide runway's centreline. At the post-flight press conference, Wetherbee told journalists there were still problems with the chute, but that overall ''I would put my stamp of approval on [it]. As soon as we work out these minor difficulties, the system will be ready to go operationally.''

His remarks would lead NASA to restrict the use of the chute to near-calm wind conditions. ''Certainly, if we had crosswinds of only five knots or less, it would be okay to live with,'' said Wetherbee. ''It didn't cause me any concern. If we were landing on a very narrow runway like an [emergency] runway over in Africa, and it pulled even more, then it would be cause for a little bit more concern.''

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