Intersection | Launching The Shuttle with Mike Leinbach
July 05, 2011 | WMFE - 90.7's Mark Simpson visits sits down with Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach to talk about his nearly 30 year career with NASA. Leinbach spoke candidly about the end of the shuttle program, noting the role in projecting goodwill from the United States each time the shuttle launches. Plus what it was like returning to flight after the Challenger and Columbia accidents.
Mike Leinbach is the conductor to a huge workforce that puts the Space Shuttle into orbit. He's held the Luanch Director position since 2000 and has worked in a variety of positions in NASA related to Shuttle liftoff.
Leinbach says he comes into get ready for the Shuttle liftoff about 10 hours before a scheduled launch. He oversees the fueling the Shuttle's external fuel tank, checking over the parameters for luanch from the weather to technical issues that might arise. Leinbach conducts a gut check before "luanching humans on a controlled explosion", that will take astronauts into space. As far as superstitions, Leinbach says he doesn't have any before launch, but his Chief Test Director paints her toenails green, "It's the damndest thing".
An Engineering Marvel:
Leinbach is still amazed by the complexity of the Space Shuttle. He calls it "the most capable vehicle ever built, and marvel every time it flies". Leinbach acknowldeges the Shuttle's complexity can also be a double edged sword. "It's complex and requires a lot of care and feeding on the ground", but "from a capability perspective no capsule will be able to do what the Shuttle does", referring to Shuttle's ability to transport large cargo and crew.
A Lengthy Gap:
After Shuttle Atlantis lands and the Shuttle program ends the US Government loses its ability to launch American astronauts on American rockets. Leinbach says planning for private space companies to pick up some of the launch burden is a good thing, but he lements that the next US space vehicle is not ready to go. "If they (astronauts) have a problem then we can't get to the Space Station, and therefore the Space Station would be in jeporardy after a period of time. I see it as a policy issue, where you're shutting down a system before the next system is up and running. If I were in charge, and I'm not, but if I were in charge I'd do it the other way. I wouldn't shut down the Shuttle system until the next system was up and running so we could guarantee access to the space station."
An American Icon:
"We're losing a bit of our American identity by shutting the system (Shuttle) down", says Leinbach when reflecting on the final moments of the Shuttle Era. "The Shuttle is an American Icon. Anywhere in the world if people pay attention to the news and see the Shuttle launch they know that's America launching that Shuttle. No one else does that, and now we won't either" says Leinbach. He also says though the loss of prestige is overshadowed by the large number of people who will be losing their jobs after the Shuttle program ends.