CAPE CANAVERAL — For the last time the payload canister for the space shuttle Discovery made its way to Launch Complex 39A (LC39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. On Thursday, October 7, 2010 the vertically-stacked payload canister traveled from the Space Station Processing Facility to LC39A.
The large white canister is hoisted up and the payload that is sealed inside will be removed. From there the canister is taken away, the Rotating Service Structure (RSS) will swing over the space shuttle and then be loaded into the shuttle’s cargo bay. The entire process takes a little over a week.
For the final flight of Discovery, STS-133, the payload includes the reconfigured Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) now dubbed the Permanent Multipurpose Module. Inside of the PMM is the first humanoid robot to fly into space Robonaut-2 or “R2.” The mission will also carry the Express Logistics Carrier 4 and much-needed spare parts to the International Space Station (ISS).
The mission is slated to launch no-earlier-than Nov.1 at 4:40 p.m. EDT. The crew consists of Commander Steve Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Nicole Stott, Alvin Drew, Tim Kopra and Michael Barratt.
The canisters that deliver the payload out to the launch pad have been used since the shuttle program’s inception. However, that does not mean that they are destined to go to the Smithsonian or some other world-famous museum. In fact there is no real clear destination for any of these pieces of hardware. As NASA no longer has a clear path forward it is not known whether-or-not the canisters will be used in some future, as-yet-unnamed program.
“They’re pretty old critters, they’ve been with us since the beginning of the shuttle program,” said Scott Higginbotham NASA’s mission manager in charge of payloads. “They’ve delivered all the payloads either to the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) for horizontal installation or out here to the pad for vertical installation.”