Discovery Ascends into history

Space shuttle Discovery roars to orbit on her final mission. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

CAPE CANAVERAL – After a series of unfortunate events the final flight of the space shuttle Discovery, NASA’s oldest orbiter and in many ways the “star” of the fleet began her 11 day mission by thundering off the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Liftoff occurred at 4:53 p.m. EDT.

The final scheduled mission for shuttle Discovery, STS-133, is a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The payload included the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM). This cargo carrier has been sent to the ISS on seven prior occasions, where its cargo has been off-loaded onto the orbiting outpost and the module returned to Earth – not this time. The module, first designated the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) has since been modified and will become a permanent fixture on the ISS.

Waiting patiently inside the PMM, as all the drama unfolded in the outside world is what many have dubbed, “the seventh crewmember,” Robonaut-2. This is the first human-like robot to fly in space and the first American robot to be sent to the space station.

This mission has seen its fair share of drama. After a launch attempt was scrubbed back on Nov. 5, 2010 a crack was discovered in the layer of foam that covers the shuttle’s large, orange external tank. This led to the discovery of multiple cracks within the aluminum skin of the tank itself. After numerous tests, scans and repairs the orbiter and its components were given a clean bill of health and sent back out to the launch pad.

As if a nod to these issues, a large section of foam was seen coming off the external tank as the shuttle powered its way to orbit.

After the tech issues were cleared, astronaut Tim Kopra broke his hip in a bike accident. This caused for him to be replaced by astronaut Stephen Bowen. This is no small feat as Bowen now has to learn all the critical moves required to complete Kopra’s assigned spacewalks.

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One Comment

  1. The launch was a beautiful thing to see-With all the other drama, the “eastern range” issue being resolved at the last second added a touch of excitement-leaving two seconds on the window-talk about cutting it close! I will really miss seeing shuttle launches when they go away. I hope the rest of the mission goes smoothly.

Live coverage of the final flight of Discovery on AmericaSpace

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