The Glass Lady
“Three… two… one… ignition!”
Lt. Commander Jacob Enright checked the monitor directly in front of him on the control panel. Space Shuttle Endeavor’s Payload Assist Module engine fired its 17,360-pound molten thrust at the lethal weapons satellite LACE on schedule to push it out of continuous orbit. In twenty-five minutes, it would hit the atmosphere in the middle of the Indian Ocean and hit the water as harmless debris soon after.
“Ignition plus twenty seconds. Range two miles, Skipper,” Enright called out as he read the constantly changing computations. “One minute now. Still burning.”
“Range below?” Colonel Parker asked.
“Four miles. Slant range two miles and counting.”
The PAM’s attitude thrusters were programmed to keep the PAM horizontal and to hold at a slight tilt. This off-center component pushed LACE down and away from the shuttle as it slowed her speed.
“Seventy seconds. Range six miles below.”
“Prepare for shutdown,” Parker barked, his eyes fixed on the chronometer. “Shutdown, now!”
The huge engine cut power and both men kept the shuttle on an even keel.
“She’s slowed by 898 feet per second, Skip. She’s on her way.”
The death fall had begun…
Other books by Douglas Savage:
For David L. Hall:
The detailed technical and engineering materials in this story would have been impossible without generous assistance from many sources. The Public Information Office of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tx., and especially Mrs. I. L. Scott, were most generous with Space Transportation System documents, Crew Activity Plans, and shuttle mission profiles.
For detailed engineering descriptions of the space shuttle and of the LACE laser weapon system, the author is indebted to the editors of
The detailed descriptions of Shuttle’s onboard systems would have been impossible without the long-suffering patience of Ms. Sue Cometa, Rockwell International, Space Operations Division.
The author cannot adequately thank Ms. Elizabeth Gasper for her time, trouble, and tea, in editing the final galleys of this story written in a foreign language. Even old Smokey had to wait.
The author assumes responsibility for inaccuracies in flight-deck procedures and protocols caused by failure to secure certain important checklists. When NASA or Rockwell declined to release to the author such cockpit checklists, the author attempted to compensate for such loss with the kind and generous counsel of project subcontractors.
Certain historical figures, living and dead, who have played a significant role in the United States and Soviet manned space programs are mentioned by name in this text. The author assumes full responsibility for offense taken by such figures and by others who, by coincidence, may resemble the otherwise fictional characters in this story.
“Assbones. That’s what it takes to be a real stick-and-rudder man: Assbones. What else does flying by the seat of your pants mean, anyway? Some got it, some don’t.”
The tall man’s lips broke into a grin behind the microphone which crossed his stubbled cheek. William McKinley Parker looked through the cockpit windshield into the darkness.
“That mean we got ’em, Skipper?” smiled Jacob Enright from the right seat opposite the command pilot.
“And then some, Number One,” the long man drawled in the left seat. “How’s the EGT on APU Number Two?”
“A tad high, Skipper. No sweat.” From the right seat, Enright’s hands worked the flightdeck instrument displays to the right of three green television screens covered with numbers and graphs. The television screens blew their eerie green glow upon the two tired faces.
“Endeavor, Endeavor: Configure AOS, Houston remote, Yarradee local,” the pilot’s headphones crackled.
“Ah, rogo, Flight. Acquisition of signal by Australia.” The pilot in command brought his boom microphone closer to his lips. “We have deorbit burn status report when you want it.”
“Ready to copy, Endeavor.”
“Okay, Flight: The GPC swallowed the re-entry state vectors whole; we have OPS-3 running in Major Mode 303; and we have three good APU’s cranking away. Three water spray boilers are on line. Number One thinks the exhaust gas temperature on APU Number Two is peaking a bit, but he says to fly with it. We burned on time, BT two minutes, 27 seconds, with two good OMS engines. Delta-V is minus 297 point 5. And we’ve pitched about to entry attitude. Alpha now 40 degrees and attitude hold in Y-POP.”
“We copy that, Endeavor. We have Operations Sequence Three running in the GPC. Your auxiliary power units look fine. Backroom says to ignore the APU-2 EGT warning. We copy burn time of 02 plus 27, delta velocity minus 297 point 5. Understand entry attitude hold at forty degrees up, wings level.”
“You got it, Flight. We’re goin’ over the edge here. See you over Guam in about six minutes. This is the AC.”
“Roger, Aircraft Commander. Configure LOS Yarradee.”
“Rog. Loss of signal, Australia.”
“And we’re about 15 from entry interface, Skip.”
“Uh huh.” The pilot shifted his weight in the tight seat as he stretched his long legs above the rudder pedals underneath the wide, forward instrument panel.
“Let’s hear the Air Data Probe checklist, Left, one more time, Number One. Just to be sure.”
“I think we’ve already danced that waltz, Skipper,” sighed the pilot in the right seat who wiped beads of sweat from his chin.
In nature, there are certain looks which require no words. There is the look of an angry horse, the look of the twice wounded, and the look of a father at the birth of his firstborn. And then there is the captain’s look which pierces the air, warming it as it passes. Jacob Enright felt his face singed.
“Air data probe, Left,” the second in command recited as his moist fingers fumbled through his two-inch-thick Mission Procedures manual. As he recited the protocol, his captain laid a long index finger upon each switch and square pushbutton.
“ADTA, No. 1, circuit breaker, Main Bus A, panel Overhead Fourteen, Row E, closed. ADTA, No. 3, circuit breaker, Main dc Bus C, panel Overhead Sixteen, Row E, closed. Multiplexer-demultiplexer, Flight-forward One, panel Overhead Six, on. ADP, Left, panel Center Three, locked stow. And, ADP, Left Stow, panel Center Three, to enable.” When he had finished as Colonel Parker gently touched the last switch on the center console between their seats, Enright nodded So There. But the tired command pilot had his face turned toward his side window over his left shoulder.
Six triple-pane flightdeck windows wrapped around the cockpit from the command pilot’s left shoulder to the copilot’s right shoulder. The night sky was the glossy and perfect blackness of space. One hundred thirty nautical miles below, the faint lights of Cape Londonderry on the north coastline of Australia’s King Leopold Mountain Range passed over the western horizon behind the Shuttle Endeavor’s white body. The two fliers rode heads up over the dark South Pacific.
“Thermal conditioning initiated,” the thin pilot in the right seat called out. Working the triple hydraulic systems’ switches two feet from his sweating face, the second in command directed warm hydraulic fluid through the spacecraft’s wings and tail. Without sound or vibration, the four aileron-elevators at the back edge of the wings moved slightly as the warm hydraulic blood pulsed through aluminum veins.
“Okay, Jack. Payload bay vent doors coming closed.”
Behind the roomy cockpit, the ship’s four primary computers sealed eight vent doors in the 60-foot long payload bay of the shuttle.
“Check, Skipper. Confirm forward RCS propellant dump, radar altimeters, and TACAN to standby.”
“Got it, Number One. Confirm TACAN landing beacon Number One mode select to receive and Number Two to mode GPC. And TACAN antenna select auto for One and Two, and upper for Number Three.” The commander studied the green glow of the left television screen at the center of the front instrument panel. His long fingers reached for an array of switches. “Forward RCS purge complete… Helium pres ...