Discovery’s last trip to space begins

February 24, 2011 21:57 by scibuff

Update 1: Check out the launch timeline for launch milestones and more photos.

February 24, 2011 at 21:53:34 UTC, NASA launched the Space Shuttle Discovery on its last journey into space after a series of 5 scrubs in November 2010. Six crew members of STS-133 (ISS assembly flight ULF5), commanded by NASA astronaut and Air Force officer Steven W. Lindsey (STS-87, STS-95, STS-104, STS-121), will stay in space 10 days and 19 hours and land at the Kennedy Space Center on 7 March 2011 at approximately 16:50 UTC. Mission Specialists Benjamin Alvin Drew, Jr. (STS-118) and Steve Bowen (STS-126, STS-132) will spend a total of 13.0 hours outside the station on flight days 5 and 7 (Bowen replaced astronaut Tim Kopra, who was injured in a bicycle accident in January). Discovery will spend two days heading toward its rendezvous with the International Space Station. On the second day of the flight, the crew will perform the standard scan of the shuttle’s thermal protection system using the orbiter boom sensor system attached to the end of Discovery’s robotic arm. On the third day of the flight, Discovery will approach and dock with the space station.

Lift-off of Space Shuttle Discovery

Lift-off of Space Shuttle Discovery

The mission will transport the Permanent Multipurpose Module Leonardo and the third of four ExPRESS Logistics Carriers (ELC4) to the ISS. The Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) is a large, reusable pressurized element, carried in the space shuttle’s cargo bay, originally used to ferry cargo back and forth to the station. For STS-133, the PMM, known as Leonardo, was modified to become a permanent module attached to the International Space Station. Once in orbit, the PMM will offer 70 additional cubic meters of pressurized volume for storage and for scientific use. The module is carried in the cargo bay of Discovery and will be connected to the Unity node on the station.

The Crew of STS-133

Attired in training versions of their shuttle launch and entry suits, these six astronauts take a break from training to pose for the STS-133 crew portrait. Pictured are NASA astronauts Steve Lindsey (center right) and Eric Boe (center left), commander and pilot, respectively; along with astronauts (from the left) Alvin Drew, Nicole Stott, Michael Barratt and Steve Bowen, all mission specialists. - Credit: NASA

Almost 200 people from 15 countries have visited the International Space Station, but so far the orbiting complex has only ever had human crew members – until now. Robonaut 2, the latest generation of the Robonaut astronaut helpers, is set to launch to the space station aboard space shuttle Discovery on the STS-133 mission. It will be the first humanoid robot in space, and although its primary job for now is teaching engineers how dexterous robots behave in space, the hope is that through upgrades and advancements, it could one day venture outside the station to help spacewalkers make repairs or additions to the station or perform scientific work.


R2 inside the EMI Chamber at Johnson Space Center waiting to move on to the next set of environmental tests. Photographer: Kris Kehe

R2, as the robot is called, will launch inside the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module. Once R2 is unpacked – likely several months after it arrives – it will initially be operated inside the Destiny laboratory for operational testing, but over time, both its territory and its applications could expand. There are no plans to return R2 to Earth.

A Shuttle Back Flip at the Space Station

A Shuttle Back Flip at the Space Station - Credit: ISS Expedition 11 Crew, STS-114 Crew, NASA

NASA began a tradition of playing music to astronauts during the Gemini program, which was first used to wake up a flight crew during Apollo 15. Each track is specially chosen, often by their families, and usually has a special meaning to an individual member of the crew, or is applicable to their daily activities. NASA opened the selection process to the public for the first time for STS-133. The public was invited to vote on two songs used to wake up astronauts on previous missions to wake up the STS-133 crew.

Space Shuttle Discovery

Space Shuttle Discovery as it approaches the International Space Station (ISS) during the STS-105 mission. Visible in the payload bay of Discovery are the Multipurpose Logistics Module (MPLM) Leonardo at right, which stores various supplies and experiments to be transferred into the ISS; at center, the Integrated Cargo Carrier (ICC) which carries the Early Ammonia Servicer (EAS); and two Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE) containers at left. - Credit: NASA

On flight day 5, Drew and Bowen will install a power extension cable between the Unity and Tranquility nodes to provide a contingency power source. The spacewalkers will move a failed ammonia pump module that was replaced in August 2010 from an attachment bracket to a stowage platform adjacent to the Quest airlock. Drew and Bowen will install hardware under a camera on the truss that will tilt the camera to provide clearance for a spare part to be installed on a future mission. They next will replace a guide for the rail cart system used for moving cargo along the truss. The guides were removed when the astronauts were performing work on the station’s starboard Solar Alpha Rotary Joint, which rotates the solar arrays to track the sun.

On flight day 7, Drew will remove thermal insulation from a platform while Bowen swaps out an attachment bracket on the Columbus module. Bowen then will install a camera assembly on the Dextre robot and remove insulation from Dextre’s electronics platform. Drew will install a light on a cargo cart and repair some dislodged thermal insulation from a valve on the truss then remove other insulation from Tranquility. The final task will be to “fill” a special bottle with space for a Japanese education payload. The bottle will be part of a museum exhibit for public viewing.

Discovery launch

Time-lapse photography captures space shuttle Discovery's path to orbit. Liftoff from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida was at 6:21 a.m. EDT April 5 on the STS-131 mission. The seven-member crew will deliver the multi-purpose logistics module Leonardo, filled with supplies, a new crew sleeping quarters and science racks that will be transferred to the International Space Station's laboratories. - Credit: NASA/Ben Cooper

Discovery was NASA’s third space shuttle orbiter to join the fleet at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Discovery also is known inside the space agency by its designation Orbiter Vehicle-103, or OV-103. Construction of Discovery began on Aug. 27, 1979 and was completed four years later. Discovery rolled out of the assembly plant building in Palmdale, California, October 1983 and was first launched Aug. 30, 1984 (STS-41D).

Discovery flew its maiden voyage on Aug. 30, 1984, on the STS-41D mission. Later missions included NASA’s return to flight after the loss of Challenger (September 1988) and Columbia (July 2005), launch of the Hubble Space Telescope in April 1990, the final Shuttle/Mir docking mission in June 1998 and Senator John Glenn’s shuttle flight in October 1998.

When first flown, Discovery became the third operational orbiter, and it currently is the oldest orbiter in service. It was named after two historic, Earth-bound exploring ships of the past. One was a vessel used by Henry Hudson in the early 1600s to explore the Hudson Bay and search for a northwest passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The other was one of two ships used by the British explorer James Cook in the 1770s. Cook’s voyages in the South Pacific led to the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. Another of his ships was the Endeavour, the namesake of NASA’s newest shuttle.

After STS-133 Discovery will be the first space shuttle to retire from NASA’s fleet, having flown in space 39 times – more than any other shuttle.

Discovery’s numbers prior to STS-133:

Total distance traveled: 230 003 477 km
Total days in orbit: 351 (8,441 hours, 50 minutes, 41 seconds)
Total orbits: 5,628
Total flights: 38
Total crew members: 246
Mir dockings: 1 (STS-91 June 1998)
ISS dockings: 12
Discovery at Night

Discovery at Night - Xenon lights illuminate space shuttle Discovery on Launch Pad 39A following the retraction of the rotating service structure - Credit: NASA/Troy Cryder

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