Discovery's final space trip begins

NASA launched the Space Shuttle Discovery on its last journey into space today. Six crew members commanded by NASA astronaut and Air Force officer Steven W. Lindsey, 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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

News and Photo Credit : NASA

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