Wednesday, November 3, 2010



After a couple of delays due to pesky helium and nitrogen leaks found onboard, the Space Shuttle Discovery will begin it's final flight today at 12:52PM, PST.
Discovery is now the oldest shuttle still in service having already flown 38 flights since 1984. It has completed 5,247 orbits, and spent 322 days in space. The craft has a long history with the Hubble Telescope, having taken it into orbit in 1990, and flying two missions to service the bus sized instrument since. It also launched the Ulysses probe to study the Sun, also in 1990, the mission lasting until June of last year.
As far as I know, and my knowledge is vast, Discovery flew the first sitting member of Congress into orbit in 1985, Senator Jake Garn (R-UT), as a mission specialist. Considering he helped facilitate the Savings and Loan Crisis of the 1980s, which cost the American tax payers nearly $125 billion dollars through his deregulative Garn–St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982 (these guys never freaking learn), I wish the other astronauts on board would have left him up there (oh, am I being too cruel? Yes! And delightedly so!). It also took John Glenn back up into space when he was 77 years old, making him the oldest guy in space so far, and as he was a Senator at the time, he was the third sitting member of Congress to go to space (the second being Rep. Bill Nelson (D-FL), which makes the score Dems 2 to Repubs 1. We are winning the space race!).
Discovery was the first shuttle to return to flight after both the Challenger disaster in 1988, and the Columbia disaster in 2005. Since that flight Discovery's missions have primarily been involved with supplying and servicing the International Space Station, as it's last flight will be.
STS-133 will carry six astronauts to the ISS, who will deliver the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) Leonardo, which is a multipurpose module which is permanent, and will primarily be used for storage of spares, supplies and waste. It will also carry the third of four ExPRESS Logistics Carriers, which is an unpressurized payload project that provides mechanical mounting surfaces, electrical power, and command and data handling services for science experiments. Very exciting.
Hey, they're also taking a robot! Robonaut2 is a humanoid robotic development project, the idea being to have a humanoid robotic apparatus which can work alongside astronauts while outside the space station, presumably attached to one of the station's robotic arms. I don't know why they need this. Robonaut2 will be tested for feasibility once it gets to the ISS. It is a forerunner to the HAL 9000 Series, and will one day take over the planet.
The astronauts on Discovery will also take with them more than half a million signatures of students, which is very cool, and part of the Student Signatures in Space program which has taken nearly 7 million students’ signatures from 6,552 schools on 10 shuttle missions.
The mission will feature two space walks, will be the 164th American manned space flight, the 133rd shuttle mission since the first in 1981, and the 35th shuttle mission to the ISS.
It will also be the second to last shuttle mission ever, Discovery being decommissioned after the flight. The last mission, STS 134, with my and my lovely case manager Erin's picture on board the shuttle Endeavor, is scheduled to be launched February 27th of next year.
NASA has offered to give Discovery to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, for public display and preservation as part of the national collection, which is entirely appropriate, as I certainly wouldn't know where to put it.
The freaking thing's huge!
Goodbye Discovery. You've served us well.
Note of 12-03-10: The launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery has been repeatedly delayed due to cracks discovered on two 21-foot-long, U-shaped aluminum brackets, called stringers, on the shuttle's external tank. It is now scheduled to launch no later than Feb 3rd.

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