March 7, 2009

NASA Sets March 11 Launch Date For Discovery

After completing a review of space shuttle Discovery's flight readiness, NASA managers selected an official launch date for the STS-119 mission, which is now scheduled to lift off to the International Space Station at 9:20 p.m. EDT on March 11.

NASA made its announcement following Friday's Flight Readiness Review, during which top NASA and contractor managers assessed the mission's risks and decided the shuttle's equipment, support systems and procedures are ready for flight.

The review included a formal presentation of the shuttle's flow control valve work, initiated after NASA identified damage to a valve on shuttle Endeavour during its November 2008 flight.  Following detailed inspections, three valves have been cleared of any indications of cracks and are now installed in Discovery to support the STS-119 mission.

The three flow control valves, one for each space shuttle main engine, channel gaseous hydrogen from the engines through the main propulsion system and back to the external fuel tank. This flow regulation maintains the tank's structural integrity and delivers liquid hydrogen to the engines at the correct pressure.

Discovery's STS-119 flight will deliver the space station's fourth and final set of solar array wings, completing the station's truss. The arrays will provide the electricity to fully power science experiments and support the station's expanded crew of six in May.

Commander Lee Archambault and his six crewmates will embark on the 14-day mission, in which they will conduct four spacewalks to help install the S6 truss segment to the starboard, or right, side of the station and the deployment of its solar arrays. The flight also will replace a failed unit for a system that converts urine to potable water.

Archambault will be joined on STS-119 by Pilot Tony Antonelli and Mission Specialists Joseph Acaba, Steve Swanson, Richard Arnold, John Phillips and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata. Wakata will replace space station crew member Sandra Magnus, who has been aboard the station for more than four months. He will return to Earth during the next station shuttle mission, STS-127, targeted to launch in June 2009.

Former science teachers Acaba and Arnold are now fully-trained NASA astronauts, and will make their first journey to orbit on the Mission, stepping outside the station to conduct crucial spacewalking tasks.

Additional information about upcoming space shuttle flights can be viewed at the agency's Web site at http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle.

NASA also announced its schedule for media briefings, events and operating hours for the news center at the agency's Kennedy Space Center for the launch.

On Sunday, March 8, Discovery's seven astronauts are expected to arrive at Kennedy at approximately 3 p.m.  NASA Television will provide live coverage as Commander Lee Archambault briefs reporters.

The agency will provide continuous mission updates online, including a webcast and a blog at http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle

On the day of the launch, a blog will update the countdown beginning March 11 at 4 p.m. Originating from Kennedy, the blog is the definitive Internet source for information leading up to launch. During the mission, visitors to NASA's shuttle Web site can read about the crew's progress and watch the spacewalks live.  As Discovery's flight wraps up, NASA's blog will detail the spacecraft's return to Earth.

Live updates to the NASA News Twitter feed will be added throughout the shuttle launch countdown, mission and landing. The NASA  News Twitter feed and other agency Twitter feeds can be viewed at http://www.nasa.gov/collaborate.

Detailed lists of countdown milestones, news briefing times and participants along with hours of operation for Kennedy's news center can be viewed at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/news.

NASA will provide a TV streaming video, scheduling and downlink information at http://www.nasa.gov/ntv