Two astronauts taken off flight roster for medical reasons

Sunday, November 10, 2002

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- It was bad enough when a medical problem sidelined one astronaut, but then a back injury forced another off space shuttle Endeavour's upcoming flight, sending shock waves through the crew.

Not since Apollo 13 had a career astronaut, let alone two, been bumped from an impending U.S. space shot because of health concerns.

"We were joking a lot about being Number 113," said Kenneth Bowersox, who at last check was still fit for Monday's launch and a lengthy space station stay. He suggested, during lighter moments, changing the mission's STS-113 designation.

For the record, Endeavour's flight to the international space station remains Space Transportation System No. 113. The mission patch plays it safe, though, and goes with Roman numerals: CXIII.

Seven astronauts will be aboard Endeavour, including eleventh-hour fill-ins Donald Pettit and Paul Lockhart.

Pettit will spend the winter aboard the space station with Bowersox and Russian Nikolai Budarin. Lockhart, Endeavour's pilot, will deliver them and bring back the three who have been living on the orbiting complex since June.

Pettit and Lockhart were upgraded over the summer. For Apollo 13, the countdown was already under way in 1970 when the switch in command module pilots occurred. Thomas "Ken" Mattingly was exposed to German measles and replaced by Jack Swigert on what was to become an even more star-crossed mission.

Pettit was training in Russia as the space station backup for Donald Thomas when Bowersox broke the news in July: Pettit was in and Thomas was out. NASA's medical experts had been debating for months whether Thomas should be grounded because of an undisclosed issue and finally ordered that the two Donalds be swapped.

A couple weeks later, in August, shuttle pilot Christopher "Gus" Loria became the second casualty after hurting his back at home. Because Lockhart had just flown to the space station on Endeavour in June, NASA asked him to step in.

Lockhart told his flabbergasted wife, who had been planning their vacation: "There's no need to finish getting the passports. We're not going to Germany and Austria."

For Bowersox, the pilot swap was "an even bigger shock" than having Pettit suddenly on board. Bowersox and his station crew were still in Russia and had no clue anything was amiss.

Pettit and his wife, meanwhile, were stunned by their own turn of events -- although perhaps less so since he had been training all along as a backup. But the impact on their lives was greater since Pettit was departing on a four-month station mission, rather than an 11-day shuttle flight. For starters, he was going to miss his twin boys' second birthday.

Worse yet, NASA already had delivered the meals and clothes for the upcoming space station crew, leaving Pettit stuck with Thomas' selections.

Thomas filled his advance shipments with chocolate, but no coffee. Pettit needs two cups of Java a day and craves green chili, not chocolate. So he's stashed instant coffee and northern New Mexico's finest green chili aboard Endeavour.

Because Pettit is taller than Thomas, he's taking up some pants along with bigger size-13 shoes. The shirts already on the space station should more or less fit. At least the name "Don" on the shirts is a perfect match.


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NASA: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov

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