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Final preparations under way for DAWN mission to explore solar system

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- -- The 1st Space Launch Squadron participated in one of the final stages in the preparation for the launch of NASA's DAWN spacecraft Tuesday at Cape Canaveral AFS.
Members of the squadron monitored the mating of the spacecraft to the Delta II launch vehicle that will send it on a mission to observe two asteroids. 

The operation began with the spacecraft in its protective canister being lifted approximately 165 feet to a green room at the top of the mobile service tower at Pad 17B. Here, the craft was centered before being moved horizontally over the booster sitting in the "white" room. 

Tech. Sgt. James Giles of the 1st SLS is a member of the maintenance team and was in the white room when the spacecraft was brought in. "I'm there for resource protection, as well as for the safety of personnel and equipment," said Sergeant Giles.
Sergeant Giles said that after the spacecraft was in position it was soft-mated to the booster with four bolts. 

At this point all personnel left the white room and closed it up for a two-hour atmosphere stabilization period to compensate for the opening of the room doors to bring the spacecraft in. After the stabilization period, the personnel returned to hard-mate the spacecraft with more bolts. 

During this time, the spacecraft was in a protective canister, not the fairing that forms the nose cone of the rocket, said Sergeant Giles. The fairing is installed after final checks are performed by the maintenance personnel. After the canister was removed, a protective awning was placed over the spacecraft and cool air pumped in to keep dust and other contaminants from settling on the probe. 

While the atmosphere in the white room is not as sterile as that of the processing facility, those working on the spacecraft still had to take precautions. Personnel had to wear protective garments including booties, hairnets and mustache covers if needed, said Sergeant Giles. 

The DAWN spacecraft is currently scheduled to launch Sept. 26. DAWN will study the origins of the solar system by investigating in detail two large asteroids - Ceres and Vesta - residing in the extensive zone between Mars and Jupiter.