NASA Astronaut Clayton C. Anderson (STS-117, Expedition 15/16, STS-120, STS-131) captured this amazing photo of Aurora from orbit while abroad Space Shuttle Discovery during the recent STS-131 mission. If you look closely, you can see the constellation Orion just above the Earth on the right; easy recognizable are the “belt” stars Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka, the B-type blue supergiant Rigel and even the Orion nebula.
Space Shuttle Discovery landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida after a 15-day mission and 238 orbits of Earth. Discovery’s main gear touched down at 13:08:35 GMT, followed by the nose gear at 13:08:47 GMT and wheelstop at 13:09:33 GMT.
STS-131 was the 131st space shuttle mission, the 38th for Discovery and the 33rd shuttle mission to the International Space Station. It was the second flight of 2010. It is Discovery’s penultimate mission; its last flight is STS-133, targeted for Sept. 16.
Update: See the mission details and more photos in my STS-131 Space Shuttle Discovery post.
The milestones of STS-131 Space Shuttle Discovery launch (reverse order):
~ 10:31:10 GMT @ T+09:45 – Nominal MECO, OMS-1 not required. With a direct insertion ascent, the main engines are burned slightly longer to achieve the desired apogee altitude, such that an OMS-1 maneuver (which would supply the additional thrust needed to reach orbit) is not required.
– 10:30:00 GMT @ T+08:35 – External Tank (ET) separation.
– 10:29:55 MT @ T+08:30 – Zero Thrust.
– 10:29:49 GMT @ T+08:24 – Main Engine Cut-off (MECO). Discovery has reach the planned orbit and is schedule to dock with the International Space Station on Flight Day 3 (April 7).
– 10:29:07 GMT @ T+07:42 – Negative Istres.
– 10:28:45 GMT @ T+07:20 – Negative Moron.
– 10:27:40 GMT @ T+06:15 – Press to MECO and Single Engine Zaragoza 104 – Discovery can now reach planned orbit in case of a single SSME failure and the Zaragoza TAL site on a single engine at 104.5% throttle.
– 10:27:26 GMT @ T+06:01 – Single Engine OPS-3 Zaragoza – Discovery could now reach the designated TAL site with a single engine at Full Power Level (FPL), i.e 109% throttle, should two of the SSME‘s fail (the OPS-3 software mode will be used for re-entry) – Prior to this point, the loss of two engines requires contingency abort procedures and OPS 6 software.
– 10:27:12 GMT @ T+05:47 – Roll to heads up.
– 10:26:36 GMT @ T+05:11 – Press to ATO select Zaragoza – Discovery could now reach a safe orbit (circular / 194.5 km) with two Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) throttled at Typical Mission Power Level (104.5%) in case of a single SSME failure. Should one of the engines fail the crew could execute the Abort To Orbit (ATO) maneuver (in case of TAL abort, the landing facility in Zaragoza would be used).
– 10:25:12 GMT @ T+03:47 – Negative Return – Discovery has used too much fuel and is traveling too fast (8 779 km/h), too high (96 km) and is too far (200 km) to return to the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for a potential Return To Launch Site (RTLS) abort.
– 10:24:17 GMT @ T+02:52 – 2 engine Istres. Discovery can now reach the Transoceanic Abort Landing (TAL) site in Istres in the case of a single engine failure.
– 10:24:06 GMT @ T+02:41 – 2 engine Zaragoza. Discovery can now reach the TAL site in Zaragoza in the case of a single engine failure.
– 10:24:00 GMT @ T+02:35 – 2 engine Moron. Discovery can now reach the TAL site in Moron in the case of a single engine failure.
– 10:23:40 GMT @ T+02:15 – Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) assist (1m 44 seconds).
– 10:23:30: GMT @ T+02:05 – Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) separation. Discovery is at the altitude of 47.18 km, 44.57 km down range from the KSC, traveling at 5 870.9 km/h (Mach 4).
– 10:22:24 GMT @ T+00:59 – Max-Q (the point of the greatest dynamic pressure).
– 10:22:17 GMT @ T+00:52 –Throttle up back to 104.5% engine power level.
– 10:22:10 GMT @ T+00:45 – Mach 1.
– 10:22:04 GMT @ T+00:39 – Throttle down from 104.5% to 72.0% engine power level at Mach 0.9.
– 10:21:44 GMT @ T+00:19 – Roll maneuver finished.
– 10:21:35 GMT @ T+00:10 – Start the roll program.
– 10:21:25 GMT @ T-00:00 – Lift-off. Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) ignition and lift-off of the Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-131 (ISS assembly flight 20A) mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
– 10:21:18 GMT @ T-00:06.6 (and 06.48, 06.36) – The three Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) start.
– 10:21:14 GMT @ T-00:09 – The hydrogen burn-off system begins to eliminate free hydrogen exhausted into the main engine nozzles during the start sequence to prevent small, but potentially dangerous, explosions when the main engines ignite.
– 10:21:10 GMT @ T-00:15 – The Sound Suppression Water System has been activated to protect Discovery and the launch pad from acoustical energy and rocket exhaust reflected from the flame trench and Mobile Launcher Platform during launch.
– 10:20:54 GMT @ T-00:31 – Auto-sequence start. Discovery’s on-board computers have primary control of all vehicle’s critical functions.
– 10:12:25 GMT: The countdown clock resumes at T-9min and counting.
– 08:21 GMT: Shuttle Discovery’s hatch has been closed and latched for flight, the six STS-131 astronauts are strapped into their seats.
– The countdown clock resumes at T-3hr and counting.
– The STS-131 crew leaves the crew quarters at the Operations and Checkout Building and boards the Astrovan to head to the Pad 39A.
– Final inspection team is on the pad looking for ice & frost buildup on the External Tank.
– [04:21] GMT: The shuttle tanking went into a stable replenish and the countdown entered a 2.5 hour long inbuilt hold at T-3 hours.
– The liquid hydrogen tanking has reached 98% and will transition from fast-full to top-off at 2700 l per minute.
– Liquid oxygen tanking changes to fast-fill mode at almost 6,000 l per minute. Liquid hydrogen is also in fast-fill phase adding almost 32,000 liters every minute into the external tank (ET).
– Launch teams began liquid oxygen tanking in the slow-fill phase adding 1,200 liters every minute.
– 01:28 (April 05) GMT: Fueling of the External Tank began with liquid hydrogen (at 20K) started in the slow-fill mode. Liquid oxygen (at 90.188 K) will follow at ~02:00 GMT. The 3-hr fuel+oxidizer loading process for Discovery’s 3 main engines will provide the shuttle with fuel for its 8 1/2 min ride to orbit.
Update 4: STS-131 launch video
Update 3: STS-131 another view of launch
Update 2: STS-131 Launch Plume
Update 1: Visit the STS-131 gallery for an extensive collection of photos from the launch.
April 4, 2010 at 10:21:25 UTC, NASA successfully launched the Space Shuttle Discovery on its 38th flight – the 33rd shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Six crew members of STS-131, commanded by NASA astronaut Alan Poindexter (STS-122), will stay in space 13 Days 2 Hours 4 Minutes and land at the Kennedy Space Center on April 18, 12:29 (UTC time). Mission specialists Clayton C. Anderson and Rick Mastracchio will combine for 19.5 hours during 3 planed spacewalks (EVA) on flight days 5, 7 and 9.
As the last round-trip for the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, this mission will provide the International Space Station with not only some 8 tons of science equipment and cargo, but also one last opportunity to send a large load of cargo back to the ground (Leonardo will be permanently added to the ISS during the STS-133 mission).
Discovery is scheduled to dock with the station on Wednesday, April 7.
STS-131 will be the first spaceflight for the shuttle pilot James P. Dutton, Jr. Veteran astronaut Rick Mastracchio (STS-106, STS-118) will serve as mission specialist 1 on STS-131, marking his third trip to space. Veteran of one long-duration spaceflight, Clayton Anderson will serve as mission specialist 5 for STS-131. He previously flew on STS-117 and STS-120 and served as the ISS crew member of Expedition 15 and Expedition 16. A former teacher, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, on her first trip to space, will serve as mission specialist 2. Stephanie Wilson is assigned as mission specialist 3 for STS-131, marking her third spaceflight (STS-121, STS-120). Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Naoko Yamazaki will serve as mission specialist 4 on STS-131, her first spaceflight.
STS-130 will be the second spaceflight also for Nicholas Patrick (STS-116) and Robert Behnken (STS-123). Veteran astronaut Stephen Robinson flew on STS-85 in 1997, STS-95 in 1998 and STS-114 in 2005. He has logged more than 831 hours in space, including more than 20 hours of spacewalking time. He has also held various technical assignments within the Astronaut Office including testing space shuttle control software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory and helping to develop the space station robot arm.
Space shuttle Discovery’s STS-131/19A payload includes the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) and the Lightweight Multi-Purpose Experiment Support Structure Carrier (LMC).
The next mission to the ISS will be STS-131 (ISS assembly flight ULF4) currently planned to launch on at 18:28 UTC on May 14, 2010. STS-132 is scheduled to carry the Russian Mini-Research Module 1 (MRM 1).
Discovery’s last flight (STS-133) scheduled to launch on September 16, 2010, will, most likely, mark the end of the space shuttle era.