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NASA'S Mike Butler to keep bird's eye view of Shuttle launch

NASA Marshall News wrote:

>June Malone/Martin Jensen
>MSFC, Huntsville, Ala.
>(Phone: 256/544-0034)
>April 5, 2005
>RELEASE: 05-038
>Mike Butler is too busy to unpack. At the rear of his office at NASA's
>Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., stacked cardboard boxes of
>paperwork and supplies almost block the view from his window of rolling
>green pastures and low, tree-lined hills.
>Butler doesn't have time to deal with the boxes -- reminders of his team's
>recent move to new quarters closer to the rest of the Shuttle Propulsion
>Office at Marshall. And the only view he's interested in these days is the
>one looking down from atop the Space Shuttle Discovery's massive External
>Tank, the 154-foot-tall, orange fuel tank built for NASA by Lockheed Martin
>Space Systems of New Orleans. In May, the External Tank will help lift the
>STS-114: Space Shuttle Return to Flight mission to space.
>Like most of the nation, Butler will be watching Discovery's historic
>flight. But he may be watching more closely than some. He manages the team
>responsible for the External Tank-Mounted Shuttle Observation Camera, which
>is mounted in a recessed area of the External Tank's liquid oxygen feedline,
>the 70-foot conduit that delivers propellant to the Shuttle Main Engine. The
>camera team is spending the final weeks before flight ensuring the camera, a
>primary tool for recording Discovery's launch, is in proper working order,
>and securely mounted to withstand the powerful energy of liftoff, as the
>Shuttle accelerates -- in a little more than eight minutes -- toward its
>17,500 mph orbital cruising speed. From its vantage point, the feedline
>camera will record the ascent, maintain a bird's eye view of the Orbiter
>and, most importantly, document the behavior of foam insulation covering
>several key areas of the External Tank. 
>The polyurethane foam is a critical safety element. Once the External Tank
>is loaded with the 535,000 gallons of super-cold liquid hydrogen fuel and
>liquid oxygen propellant needed to loft the Shuttle into the sky, the
>insulating foam helps maintain the interior temperature and prevents buildup
>of potentially dangerous ice on the exposed aluminum exterior. After the
>loss of Shuttle Columbia in February 2003, it was determined the foam itself
>posed a potential debris risk during liftoff. Preventing foam loss -- and
>documenting future instances to provide an early warning system and permit
>repairs -- were critical recommendations of the Columbia Accident
>Investigation Board. 
>Together with cameras on the Shuttle's Solid Rocket Boosters, still and
>video cameras used by the crew in flight and enhanced cameras on the ground
>and on "chase planes" that fly in the Shuttle's vicinity, the feedline
>camera will help NASA develop a comprehensive, second-by-second picture of
>each launch. The camera, a Sony XC-999 ultra-compact integrated camera
>module with a heavy, shatterproof quartz lens, can record 30 high-resolution
>frames per second. Butler is satisfied it will function smoothly -- it
>previously recorded breathtaking images of Shuttle Atlantis' ascent during
>the STS-112 flight in October 2002, the first mission in which a camera was
>installed on the tank.
>But there's no time to breathe easy just yet. Butler switches team-lead
>hats, checking in with various tank engineers on fresh issues. He manages
>what are known as "launch commit criteria" for the External Tank -- the
>final set of safety checks used by spacecraft managers on the day of launch
>to verify whether Shuttle hardware is indeed ready to fly. Butler oversees
>more than a dozen launch criteria for the tank, and works closely with
>criteria managers for other Shuttle components, helping to ensure NASA
>launch personnel are prepared to finalize Discovery's go/no-go status on the
>Butler routinely huddles for updates via conference calls with Shuttle teams
>across NASA: tank manufacturers at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New
>Orleans; launch facility managers at Kennedy; members of the Astronaut Corps
>at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "There are a lot of reviews, a
>lot of voices speaking up," he says. "Everyone is working to make this
>flight the safest it can be. We're confident we've achieved that."
>Butler was born in Pensacola, Fla., and raised in Huntsville. He earned a
>bachelor's degree in engineering in 1984 from the University of Alabama in
>Tuscaloosa, before joining Marshall's Systems Analysis and Integration
>Office the same fall. He was promoted in 1988 to the Systems Engineering
>Project in the Shuttle Propulsion Office, and has climbed through the
>office's ranks ever since. A tall, rangy outdoorsman, Butler still looks
>like the young man who ran track for the Crimson Tide. And his athletic
>nature has proved handy at NASA over the years. 
>"We're constantly on the move, solving problems, staying ahead of issues,"
>he says. "The last two years have really shown what NASA is willing to give
>for the American people. This is good work. And a great team."
>For more information about STS-114: Return to Flight, visit:
>For more information about NASA's mission, visit:
>News release:
>NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center 
>Public Affairs Office 
>(256) 544-0034 
>(256) 544-2552 (fax) 
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